At CMJ, camaraderie is contagious. You meet bands from all over the world and hear about their experiences, playing multiple shows a day and hoping they made a lasting impression. It’s kind of like living in a small, musical town, or better yet, like high school all over again. Well, this year, at CMJ High, I saw over 50 bands, but these 15 stood out as the best, earning superlatives in the Bushwick Daily CMJ Yearbook, and spots on the playlist. Congrats class of 2014!
Most Popular: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard (Australia)
We know this 7-piece of way sexy dudes is Australian, but they really seem like the kings of Brooklyn lately. They have performed more times than any other band has ever played at Brooklyn’s hippest venue, Baby’s All Right, as well as rocking tons of other stages during CMJ. And they totally deserve the popularity, with their weird psychedelic sound, eclectic variety of instruments (fox-coated harmonica and flute solo anyone?), and stunning live performance. Can they all be my boyfriend??
Best Hair: Tweens (OH)
Cincinnati’s most badass trio is Tweens, the relatively new punk and rock band who feature old fashion hooks, ruffled feathers at Baby’s All Right during Brooklyn Vegan’s Friday day party. They describe themselves as “nasty” and “doo-woppy,” two terms that suit their high-energy, guitar-driven punk set. The most memorable flashes of the set were lead singer Bridget Battle’s white locks, and her don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, as she whipped her hair in a way that would make even Willow Smith (who also played CMJ) jealous. It was not only gravity-defying, but also extremely badass.
Best International Vibe: Yonatan Gat (Israel / NY)
There was no more perfect Saturday day set then Northern Spy’s showcase at Trans-Pecos in Ridgewood. Yonatan Gat, former guitarist from heavy garage band Monotonix (described by Spin as “the most exciting live band in rock’n’roll”) brings his Israeli vibes to mingle perfectly with African-tinged drums of Portugese Igor Domingues (of Throes + The Shine) in a remarkable new project. Playing outdoors in TP’s spacious yard, their tropical punk vibes scattered up, out, and into the streets and above the trees, a beautiful experience unlike many others at CMJ.
Most Starpower: BØRNS(CA)
An unexpected surprise on my LES crawl Thursday afternoon was the magical sounds of Los Angeles-based BØRNS. Funky, sexy, and poppy, the band’s lead singer Garrett Borns personifies androgyny, both in his rich, soaring vocals and fashionable appearance. His full band jammed together with an invigorating passion while BØRNS stole the vocal spotlight. At the moment, there is one lonesome single “10,000 Emerald Pools” available online, but the band performed a full set of perfectly-rehearsed songs, so look out for a debut album very soon!
Best Josie & The Pussycats Reincarnate: New Myths (NY)
In the miniature back room of Niagara, where the American hardcore scene was established, three ladies of various hair hues unleashed sutra vocals, 3-part harmonies, scratchy guitar riffs, and dark rhythms. New Myth’s sound is guided by an ethereal, multifaceted sound that’s heard best on their brand new LP, Give Me Noise, as there was no keyboard / acoustic guitar / saxophone in the live set. Nonetheless, it’s confirmed: these three rock, are hot, and have much promise.
Oldest: Reigning Sound
Whomever said CMJ was just for the young clearly wasn’t paying attention to Reigning Sound’s big Wednesday night comeback at The Knitting Factory. These guys, who never made it onto my radar til now, apparently gathered a cult following around their 2001 album Break Up Break Down, a country-folk outlet for Greg Cartwright of garage band Compulsive Gamblers. They’ve quietly been putting out gentle music for the past 13 years but landed loudly with this past summer’s excellent release, Shattered, which features two original members, aka the two older gents in the above gif. In a lineup following the fresh White Fence and King Gizzard, though, Reigning Sound did kinda seem like the dudes that were supposed to have graduated a long time ago…
Cutest Couple: Girlpool (LA)
These two ladies- who got together a while back at LA’s famous indie haunt the Smell- are not romantically linked but clearly the best of friends. Each would probably consider the other the better half, but truth is they work perfectly when in equal parts. Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad felt at home at Silent Barn on Saturday Evening, accepting multiple love offerings from the crowd and giggling throughout their unapologetically blunt set. Oft-clashing harmonies carved paths for lyrics touching on teen angst and white privilege while the baseline thumped out rhythms and their signature shrieks thrilled the room of quasi-feminists.
Dorkiest: Tom Vek (UK)
Poor Tom Vek, self-taught multi-instrumentalist from London whose 2011 hit “You Look Around” is still in radio rotation. His hand movements and overall stage presence were unexpectedly awkward, which was an odd match for his cutthroat electronic rock sound that combines punk and dance overtones. Those wild hands, coupled with his British humor, glasses, and dashing grin, made for very funny (and occasionally wince-enducing) set Tuesday night at Mercury Lounge.
Freakiest: Doprah (NZ)
At Bushwick Daily’s own showcase at Lot 45 this kiwi band led the crowd into a very trippy headspace. Colorful, psychedelic visuals dripped over the 6-piece as they poured through their set in a very eerie manner. Commanding the crowd with witchy hand movements and wide eyes, lead singer Indira Force soulfully poured her vocals into singles “San Pedro” and “Stranger People” as suspenseful guitar chords guided the songs to druggy climaxes. Even creepier, the band’s other principle member, multi-instrumentalist and producer Steven John Marr, shined a psychotic grin on the crowd as the wavy projections spread over him. Creepy can be cool, if you’re Doprah.
Most Likely to Succeed (AKA Have a Top 40 Hit That You’d Actually Listen to): Strange Names (MN/NY)
This 4-piece was the very first band I saw at CMJ, and kicked things off in a very sleek way. Funk, electronic, tropical, and rock sounds mingle in a very charming way in their power-pop anthems that had the sleepy crowd shaking it at 1PM on a Tuesday. Core members Liam Benzvi and Francis Jimenez switch off on vocals and harmonize through their sexy “Future Wife,” contrasting two very different ranges and timbres, resulting in a perfect combination. Watch the airwaves, or at least the dance floor at your fave indie club— these guys are on their way to a pop hit.
Best Group Dynamic: September Girls (Ireland)
This fashionable 5-piece brought to mind a modern version of the Spice Girls that actually write and perform all their own awesome music. With a sound that blends sludgy shoe gaze with millennial surf rock, punk influncens are ignited in the distorted vocals of recent single “Veneer.” Each woman commanded the attention of the crowd, rocking out separately and together in a display that truly represented rock’n’roll women everywhere. Very impressive.
Most Academic: Adult Jazz (UK)
This spectacular band, out of Leeds, spun the crowd up into their minimal, tribal-yet-orchestral falsetto-based sound. Stereogum does well describing their experimental sound on 2014’s marvelous Gist Is to “explore Big Ideas about the nature of morality, communication, and knowledge, juggling postmodern concepts about the futility of language while navigating a spare, free-flowing musical landscape.” It’s appropriate then, that they provided the most scholarly backdrop to an open bar that any Fader Fort’s ever seen. Don’t throw these guys in the same category as Atl-J; they would never waste their breath on lyrics about crisp packets.
Best Moves: TONSTARTSSBANDHT (FL/NY)
A little bit of dancing, a little bit of rolling on the ground, a whole lot of music-enducing shaking— it was an indie rock ballet Wednesday at Baby’s All Right as singer Andy White sprawled about the stage barefoot. The stoner-rock duo (consisting of Andy and brother Edwin Mathis White) jangled through their experimental set as though soaring through the open countryside- the perfect psychedelic soundscape to escape (from work) to.
Biggest Party Animal: Mirror Kisses (VA)
George Clanton aka Mirror Kisses describes himself as “A modern male emotional empowerment music movement,” a description that’s entirely spot on when listening to his upbeat synth partypop on headphones. Live, the music takes on a whole new persona in conjunction with his elaborate lightshow, a custom-made wall of LEDs that shimmer through colors, patterns, symbols (Emoji), well-know logos (Nike, Playstation), and inspirational messages (DICK SWAG, for example). Its eye-catching display infused his dance-based performance with a smart, ironic twist, dazzling the crowd at Thursday’s 2PM Bowery Electric show.
Coolest: Future Punx (NY)
We already knew that Future Punx was the coolest band around Brooklyn, but they just made that official on a national scale by blowing minds wherever they went at CMJ this year. I caught them at Pianos where they spread a keytar-induced fever through the crowd of DEVOtees (get it?!). Despire minor sound and projection problems, the group kept their cool while bursting through their set, hitting a high note of “Living In a A Movie”, smirking while wearing sunglasses at night. We’re not worthy…